The recent exposé by BBC Africa revealed that many workers in the Tea Industry, particularly women, were subjected to sexual harassment, including unwanted sexual advances, indecent exposure, and assault. The tea industry in Kenya is a significant contributor to the country’s economy, employing thousands of people in tea estates and factories. However, reports of sexual harassment in these workplaces have been widespread.
Following the revelations, several multinational companies that buy tea from Kenyan producers were called upon to take action. One of the actions taken by these companies was to conduct business ethics audits of their Kenyan tea suppliers to ensure that they were operating ethically and that their workers were not being subjected to any form of abuse or harassment.
However, the problem of sexual harassment in the Kenyan tea industry is not unique, and similar issues have been reported in other industries and countries around the world. This highlights the need for companies to take a proactive approach to preventing and addressing unethical behavior within their organizations.
The expose highlighted the need for businesses to conduct regular ethics audits to ensure that they are not only complying with local laws but also adhering to ethical standards. In this case, the tea companies in Kenya failed to uphold basic ethical principles such as human dignity and respect for human rights.
What does Business Ethics Audits involve?
Business Ethics audits are usually conducted by an independent third party and generally involves a comparison between internal and external guidelines with actual behaviors within a company or organization and involves:
a) Comprehensive evaluations of an organization’s ethical policies, practices, and culture.
b) Interviews with employees, and analysis of data to identify any ethical issues that may be present in the Organization.
c) Review of the organization’s history of ethical violations, as well as any reports of sexual harassment or other unethical conduct.
d) Review of the various areas of a company’s operations, including labor practices, environmental impact, supply chain management, and governance.
Once an ethical violation is identified during the audit, the auditors will make recommendations for corrective action. This may include:
a) Changes to policies and procedures
b) Additional training for employees,
c) Disciplinary action against those responsible for the violation.
Why Conduct Business Ethics Audits?
Business Ethics Audits are designed to dig deep into a Company’s practices to see how closely a company follows its’ own rules and policies as well as how far it complies with any external and guidelines and internationally recognized ethical standards.
Business Ethics Audits also demonstrate a commitment to ethical business practices, and this can have significant benefits including:
a) Provides Stakeholders the opportunity to clarify their expectations of the company’s behavior.
b) Enables companies to better understand their relationships with key stakeholders such as employees, customers, and shareholders, and to align their values with those of their workforce.
c) Clarifies the actual values to which the company operates.
d) It assists to identify areas where ethical violations are occurring and provide a roadmap for addressing them.
e) It assists to mitigate risks, such as legal liability, reputational damage, and loss of business among other benefits.
f) Enhanced corporate reputation and assists to make the company fraud resistant.
g) Improving staff motivation and morale.
h) It is of great value to multinationals in take-over and merger situations, especially ones which involve partners from different countries where there may be conflicting value systems.
Working practices and ethical conduct are a major concern for both national and multinational companies. In the recent past, some companies withdrew from countries they could otherwise manufacture profitably because they were not prepared to work with a certain regime for example Levi Strauss withdrew from China because of what it called pervasive human-rights violations while other companies withdrew from South Africa because they could not cooperage with apartheid.
Conducting ethical audits is essential for organizations to assist in prevention of instances of sexual harassment and other forms of unethical conduct from occurring within the workplace. This proactive approach ensures that ethical standards are upheld and any potential issues are identified and addressed promptly, creating a safer and more trustworthy environment for employees, shareholders and stakeholders alike.
However, it is important to note that ethical audits are not a one-time solution to preventing sexual harassment and unethical conduct. Organizations must commit to conducting regular audits to ensure that they are maintaining a culture of integrity and transparency. By doing so, they can not only prevent ethical violations from occurring but also build a stronger, more ethical organization.
Please reach out to our Business Ethics Audit Team to discuss with you your Company’s Business Ethics requirements and Audits.